Branding, Marketing, Tourism, Uncategorized

Confused and Weak – When Bad Branding Happens to Good Places

cooler and warmer logo

Poor Rhode Island.

Buddy Cianci is no sooner in his grave, the state hoping to erase that embarrassment from collective memory, than the new Governor unveils one of the dumbest state branding campaigns imaginable.

And the bar is pretty low – imagine being Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan, spending millions of dollars on the “Pure Michigan” campaign just as you’re struggling to explain how you’ve poisoned the entire city of Flint with lead tainted water. Pure……………not so much. But I digress.

First the “brand” – Cooler and Warmer. Now a brand isn’t a tagline or a slogan, a brand is a strategy that distills what’s true and distinctive about a place or product, and frames it in terms that are meaningful to the target audience. The slogan or tagline is merely the quick shorthand expression of the brand. What’s most problematic here is that the strategy behind the tagline doesn’t ring true and isn’t distinguishing. Everywhere claims to be “cooler.” If you have to tell people you’re cool, you’re not. And having grown up swimming in the very cold waters of Rhode Island beaches…….. warmer? Not buying it for a minute.

Neither did Rhode Islanders, NPR, CNN or other national media outlets who exploded with protest. Within days, “Cooler and Warmer” was cold and dead.

Second, the brand video. Released with great fanfare by the Governor, it brought down a firestorm of criticism when clever viewers immediately recognized that it contained a scene NOT shot in Rhode Island, and in fact shot in Iceland. http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/30/travel/rhode-island-iceland/

But the bigger problem with the video isn’t just sloppy use of the wrong footage, the problem is the video is a compilation of generic scenes that don’t drive a coherent brand strategy and don’t evoke the distinctive features of Rhode Island. I grew up in Rhode Island, and am back three or four times a year, and I could only recognize a handful of scenes – the Bristol 4th of July Parade, the Providence skyline, the Newport Bridge, the Arcade, and Waterfire. No sign of the South County Beaches. Or the Newport Mansions. Or Slater’s Mill. Instead close up shots of generic people doing generic things in generic settings. #BrandingFail.

Finally, this exmplifies bad agency behavior because they didn’t protect their client. I have no idea about the inner political workings of the RI Commerce Corporation, which oversaw this botched project, but I do know that a good agency doesn’t let their client walk off a cliff. A good agency protects their client, warns them about how social media is likely to respond, and insulates them from any backlash. Instead, this colossal blunder cost the brand new CMO her job: http://wpri.com/2016/04/01/ri-chief-marketing-officer-resigns-after-cooler-warmer-debacle/

Rhode Island is a great state.   I’m proud to be from there.  They deserve a brand strategy, not a punchline.

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